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Lassonde Educational Innovation Studio and k2i academy collaborate to bring innovation to education

In 2020, the Lassonde School of Engineering launched two key initiatives that focused on enhancing student experiences and developing innovative educational methods. These were the Lassonde Educational Innovation Studio (LEIS) and k2i (kindergarten to industry) academy. Both were established with the vision of transforming student experiences through an integrated approach, bringing together Lassonde, York University and external partners. Over the past four years, these initiatives have expanded, continually addressing community needs and fostering educational innovation across Ontario, even during the challenges of the global pandemic.

“Our society needs strong leaders, creative problem solvers, and innovative thinkers to tackle today’s challenges and prepare for tomorrow’s,” says Jane Goodyer, dean of Lassonde. “Creating educational experiences with meaningful learning outcomes is critical. Breakthroughs begin with collaboration, and our interdisciplinary work through LEIS and k2i underscores our commitment to enhancing the future of STEM education.”

In 2020, k2i academy launched the Bringing STEM to Life: Work-Integrated Learning program, which provides full-time employment for four weeks during the summer to high school students who opted out of grade 11 physics. Undergraduate students in STEM fields work as mentors, guiding these students through engineering projects aligned with the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Lassonde research faculty and graduate students provide advisory support, while high school physics teachers collaborate with k2i academy staff to integrate physics learning outcomes into this project-based learning environment.

High school students and mentors at the Symposium.
High school students and mentors at the Symposium.

To increase access for underrepresented youth in STEM, k2i works strategically with three school boards – Toronto District School Board, Peel District School Board and York Region District School Board – to recruit students who are currently underserved and underrepresented in STEM. The program operates in a blended format, taking place virtually in a synchronous format with only three in-person days through the term, culminating in the Bringing STEM to Life Symposium.

“Innovation in education becomes possible when diverse perspectives, skills and expertise come together through authentic collaboration,” says Lisa Cole, Director of Programming at k2i academy. “Creating a culture of inclusive design and working with people in an ecosystem that empowers those to create with us, enables us to face complex challenges and create new opportunities.”

The k2i academy program, involving multi-sector partners, is complex. LEIS led the design process of Bringing STEM to Life, exploring various approaches to create a virtual community that would mobilize this work-integrated learning experience for high school students, teachers, mentors, community and staff. The collaboration focused on designing meaningful learning experiences and interactions and exploring different digital tools, learning management systems and organizational structures. This required cooperation across Lassonde and York University, with a shared commitment to fostering learning experiences that empower students to thrive and connect. Central to this effort was a human-centred design approach, prioritizing empathy and sensory experiences over technology. In turn, this helped guide strategies and interactions that supported student success, designing the technology deployed throughout the learner’s journey.

“For LEIS, k2i serves as our grassroots hub for experimentation,” says Tanveer Bhimani, Instructional & Learning Designer at LEIS. “We’ve been able to further our strategic initiatives across the School knowing we have a safe place to play.” The k2i academy’s agile approach and commitment to inclusive design allow them to quickly meet the needs of the kindergarten to grade 12 sector in STEM education. Working alongside communities and partners, they rapidly prototype, pilot and iterate programs to transform STEM education approaches. LEIS supports this work, bringing unique opportunities to learn collaboratively and scale outcomes across York University.

Students taking part in k2i summer programming.
Students taking part in k2i summer programming.

As a hub for experimentation, LEIS has built upon the initial collaboration with k2i to bring this innovative approach to other projects. This has led to the development of strategic undergraduate initiatives, including the Common Engineering Curricula Continual Improvement project, the Engineering Block Model pilot and the work-integrated program in Digital Technologies. A custom learning experience was also designed in Moodle, taking into account the intersecting journey of learners and teachers to create a digital environment where collaboration could thrive between the two groups.

“Innovating education begins when people come together with trust, share their passions, let their imagination soar and take risks to create something different,” says Salvatore Paneduro, Director of Educational Innovation at Lassonde. “You never know what the result will be until you dream together and try it. Being able to do this work with a group of people who bring diverse perspectives empowers our ability to create ecosystem change in education and develop experiences that lift people up, help them thrive and connect.”